Instructional Design is about creating experiences.
Our learner's prior knowledge can help or hinder learning.
Too often, we assume that if we teach it, our learners will learn it. Research dating all the way back to the 1970's and 80's (Bransford & Johnson (1972)/Resnick (1983) demonstrated that students must connect new knowledge to previous knowledge. More recently, further research explains that “new knowledge sticks only when it has something to stick to”(Ambrose,et al., 2010, p.15). Reading comprehension is an excellent example of how meaningful connections work.
When we read, we make text to text connections, text to self connections, and text to world connections (Florida Online PD, 2004). Likewise, for prior knowledge to help learners make connections with new knowledge, we must use real-world scenarios and applications. Some common and effective strategies for assessing prior knowledge include diagnostic tests and student self-assessments, both of which help the instructor (and learner) in assessing prior knowledge. As well as using concept mapping to activate prior knowledge in both traditional and non-traditional environments. When we have provided learning design for security training, we work with a retired police officer who completes various tabletop training's for manufacturing plant security. Topics such as threats, tailgating, suspicious packages, and domestic violence spillover are all important subjects that require activating prior knowledge to implement change.
To develop mastery, students must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned.
To develop mastery,learners must acquire component skills, practice integrating them, and know when to apply what they have learned. In order for learners to achieve mastery, they must be able to “achieve a fair degree of automaticity and know when and where to apply the skills appropriately” (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p.95).
FAR & NEAR TRANSFER Additionally, idea of knowledge transfer in learning has to do with mastery. Far transfer is ideal in most situations, and it happens when the new situation is very different from that in which learning occurred, or in other words, learners have the opportunity to successfully apply their learning in more advanced settings in multiple contexts. Not to discount near transfer, which is applicable in many training situations. For example, when we provide security training, a few near transfer objectives are to teach workers in the plant not to prop doors and to check their surroundings for tailgaters (those on their heels without authorization to enter). The transfer here is near-don’t allow it. Whereas, far transfer is expected when we provide training materials for “taking all threats seriously”. In these scenarios, which could include a bomb threat or an active shooter, employees have to be able to transfer the information (far) into potentially dangerous scenarios.
UNPACKING DIFFICULT TASKS However, “to teach complex skills systematically — without missing pieces — desigenrs must be able to “ unpack ” or decompose complex tasks” (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p. 100). An example of “unpacking” with security training can be observed in training for domestic violence spillover. Using role-playing and collaborative group activities help learners to react using real scenarios and allow trainers to address stereotypes and misinformation that come with this sensitive topic. In this type of training scenario, we focus on specific skills in isolation. According to Kahnemann (1973), Navon & Gophe (1979) & Wickens (1991), “many studies have shown that people’s performance tends to degrade when they are asked to do more than one task at a time.” We avoid this overload by scaffolding learning, primarily when covering the extensive section on workplace violence. The main objective of workplace violence training is to teach learners to identify and report any of these signs in coworkers: depression, threatening behavior, severed coworker romances, financial worries, obsession with guns, and known domestic disputes. Receiving all of this information at once in training is entirely overwhelming, and any hope of valid transfer is lost. We have successfully used tabletop exercises (TTX) (scenario-based training) to help students with transfer by letting them practice. These realistic incident scenarios allow participants to walk through real-life situations. The result of these scenarios is eye-opening. Aha! Moments take place when missing links are exposed in the chain of command, points of failure are revealed, gaps in procedures and confusion about responsibilities are exposed. At the end of the training, we reinforce how “security is everyone’s business” to build one team and strengthen that all employees should be on the lookout at all times.
Graphic Credit: hydra.cloud
Goal-directed practice coupled with targeted feedback is critical to learning.
Learners need multiple chances to practice new knowledge and demonstrate their understanding. Without it, learners don’t have the opportunity to close the feedback loop. Additionally, learners must “receive sufficient feedback along the way” (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 125). As seen in Monash University’s Video, Closing the Assessment Loop (2017), It’s also important to note that “feedback is only valuable if it leads to change.” Providing a steady stream of knowledge is pointless unless there is an effective way to measure learning. Equally important is providing the opportunity for students to fail. We need to see failure as part of the learning process and a path to growth. Video games, although often portrayed in a negative light, are a great example of endless opportunities for continual and constant feedback. It’s no wonder kids and adults alike love playing. Using games is an ideal way to learn. Players try, fail, receive feedback, and implement change. There is such a great opportunity for constant growth due to performance feedback. This feedback, (both positive and negative) is immediate, frequent, and useful. Research has demonstrated that focusing on a specific goal, providing an appropriate level of challenge, and focusing on the frequency and quality are the determining factors to foster quality learning (Ambrose et al., 2010, p. 127). Frequency and challenge are key principles here. These can be achieved by scaffolding learning, like a set of training wheels on a bike, we gradually increase the level of challenge and depth in any activity to build confidence and not overload working memory (p.132). Modeling is also an excellent way to show students what quality looks like or doesn’t look like depending on what the training. For example, if I were training college professors on how to create quality feedback for an online class, I would discuss model papers, using rubrics, and mini assignments that build on each other (scaffolding). I would also suggest assignments that focus on building student autonomy in efforts to work toward self-directed learning.
Using games is an ideal way to learn. Players try, fail, receive feedback, and implement change.
To become self-directed learners, students must learn to monitor and adjust their approaches to learning.
The goal in any learning situation is that students can direct their learning. We want learners to be able to problem-solve and, when stuck, have various strategies in their toolbox to utilize as needed. In Instructional Design, we strive to create training where learners will engage in the task at hand, reflect on their performance, interpret it, then use it on another similar or related task (Monash University). Yet, to become self-directed learners, students must be able to assess the demands or the task, evaluate their own knowledge, plan their approach, monitor their progress, and adjust their strategy as needed (Ambrose, et al., 2010, p.191). This is the recipe for metacognition when learners can reflect and pivot based on their own thinking.
Adapted from How Learning Works by Ambrose et al.
Similarly, self-efficacy happens when learners have the belief (self-esteem) that they can succeed. Goal setting and reflection activities are great ways to move our learners toward self-direction. Having students set goals for their learning, such as, “after this class/training I want to be able to perform X, Y, and Z.” Students who reflect in writing on how they performed and their process to get there provide themselves with the opportunity for growth.
Ambrose, S. A., Lovett, M., Bridges, M. W., DiPietro, M., & Norman, M. K. (2010). How learning works: Seven research- based principles for smart teaching
Bransford, J. D., & Johnson, M. K. ( 1972 ). Contextual prerequisites for understanding: Some investigations of comprehension and recall. Journal of Verbal Learning and Verbal Behavior, 11,717 – 726.
Florida Online Reading Professional Development. (2004). Lesson 8: Scaffolding Students’ Comprehension and Guiding Students Toward Independence in Reading. University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL. Retrieved from https://tinyurl.com/ycse9e9a
Kahnemann, D. ( 1973 ). Attention and effort. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.